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Baby Chimps, Bonobos and Humans Share Similar Gestures

Update Date: Jun 06, 2013 04:09 PM EDT

Although humans and monkeys are physically different, they actually share more behavioral aspects than one would believe. These similarities could be attributed to the fact that humans and monkeys shared a common ancestor, according to science. However, since that ancestor, these two species have diverged significantly. In a new study, researchers observed another similarity between these species. The study, co-authored by Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor from the University of California Los Angeles and Kristen Gillespie-Lynch, an assistant psychology professor from the City University of New York, discovered that baby chimpanzees, bonobos, and humans share very similar communicative gestures.

The research team focused on chimpanzees and bonobos because they are two of the most related species to humans. The researchers observed baby chimpanzee, Panpanzee, baby bonobo, Panbanisha and a human infant. All babies were females. Panpanzee and Panbanisha were raised together at the Atlanta Language Research Center where they learned how to communicate with caregivers. They were taught how to use gestures, vocalizations and visual symbols, called lexigrams, which were mostly geometric shapes. The baby girl had grown up with her parents and an older brother. The apes were observed and videotaped starting at 12 months and ending at 26 months, and the girl was videotaped from when she was 11 months to 18 months.

The video analyses led to the conclusion that all three babies shared very similar communicative gestures. Communication was defined by eye contact, non-speech sounds or the physical behavioral effort. The researchers found that the gestures all three babies shared when they wanted to be picked up were reaching, pointing with either head or fingers, and raising one's arms.

"The similarity in the form and function of the gestures in a human infant, a baby chimpanzee and a baby bonobo was remarkable," Greenfield said according to the press release.

"Gesture appeared to help all three species develop symbolic skills when they were raised in environments rich in language and communication," Gillespie-Lynch added. The researchers noted that the human infant progressed the fastest, suggesting that human had a more distinctive way of learning.

The findings were published in Frontiers in Psychology

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